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A Life Logged: My New Experiment

in Life Log · 3 minutes read

I recently started a new experiment. It consists of tracking every waking minute of my days.

Let me back up, and give you a bit of context.

Why am I doing this?

A few weeks ago, I wrapped up my job as a management consultant. Almost 2 years of my life were spent there, a wild ride, with ups and downs. But that’s a topic for another post. Those of you familiar with management consulting will know that it’s a demanding job to say the least. So as I transition from pre to post consultant life, my schedule is also undergoing a major transition. My days are shifting from highly structured with minimal unallocated time (even weekends, as I tried to schedule as many social gatherings as possible) to completely unstructured and minimal allocated time.

“What the hell am I doing during the day?”

After only a few days spent in this unstructured state, I started wondering how I was spending my time. I was struggling to remember the activities I had completed, let alone how I had spent 14 to 16 hours of my day. Obviously, I was doing “a lot” – or so I would tell myself – but I was clueless as to where and how I was spending my time, and if I was being productive at all.

Dilbert.com

Given that I am staying in this unstructured space for at least a couple more weeks/months, I realized it was important for me to get more insight into this. Hence, the experiment: I am tracking every single activity I perform, every day, for all 24 hours.

What am I doing?

The experiment is quite simple. I created a Google Calendar where I make an entry for every activity performed. An entry can be as short a 10 minutes and all entries combined will cover the 1440 minutes in a day. I try to log each activity after completing it and at most within a few hours. Each entry will have a specific format that will allow me to later download and analyze the data.

CONTEXT : ACTIVITY : DESCRIPTION

CONTEXT
The context refers to the purpose of an event (e.g., personal, social, work). Below is the list of contexts I’ve defined to date. This list has evolved over the past weeks as I try to make it relevant to my situation.

Life Log Contexts

ACTIVITY
The activity refers to the actual task I am performing (e.g., read, write, meet, workout). Activities are independent of contexts, in such a way that I can pair any activity with any context.
For example, PERSONAL:EMAIL may refer to emailing friends, whereas WORK:EMAIL may refer to emailing coworkers. Of course, not all combinations make sense (e.g., SOCIAL:READ, unless – of course – I’m reading poems to my friends…)

Life Log Activities

DESCRIPTION
The description field is used for any additional relevant information I may want to track (e.g., what I am reading)

What’s all this hassle about?

This is the exciting part. Now that I start collecting data on my behavior, I’m able to play with it and (hopefully) extract useful insights. So far, I’ve built an excel model to cut, mix, filter, digest, transform, and play with the data. I will also use the free services of Stat Wing, an online data analysis and visualization tool.

I already have several questions I’m hoping to answer with this. But I’m certain more will come up as I get better at this.

  • “What is the difference between my perception of how I spend time and how a day actually unfolds?”
  • “What is the impact of context switching vs continuous uninterrupted work?”
  • “How much time do I spend on non-productive activities?”
  • etc.

I’m sure by now you are all as excited as I am. I say this with confidence, as 95% of readers have already dropped off. So to all 3 of you out there, stay tuned! In my next post on this topic, I will share early results and initial behavioral changes I will be making. And since you’ve made it this far, here is a peak into my life .

In the meantime, if you have any suggestions on how to improve the experiment, any questions you’d like to see answered, or are interested in trying it out for yourself, leave a comment below or shoot me an email at David [at] Achkar [dot] com.


Check out the Life Log page for the latest updates and posts on this experiment.

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Published on:   June 12, 2013
  • yazinsai

    Trying to emulate this myself — do you find yourself logging activities after you’ve done them, during, or just as you start?

    • Very cool that you’re giving this a shot!

      The best approach I’ve found to date is to log every few hours. Over time I’ve developed a pretty accurate sense of time, and know what cues to look out for if I’m unsure. e.g., I received a text from someone right around the time I started this thing, friend called me at that time, etc.

      I prefer this method to logging while working because it’s a distraction. And I prefer it to “when I start” because I don’t I’ll reliably remember to click start/stop as I switch activities.

      Let me know how it goes! And if you have other thoughts.

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  • Fascinating stuff. Just a quick question regarding activities that doesn’t fit in one unique category. For example, you are coding for work while commuting in train. Do you double count in that case? Also in the QS speech, you mentioned Cotext::Activity::Tag, is Tag the same as description?

    • Yes, good point. I’ll generally log the dominant activity e.g., when coding on the subway, coding takes precedence. But I’ll also add the additional activity in the tags so that I can track it if needed.

      Tags can be considered as description, they are used like hashtags for additional contextual information e.g., the name of the book I’m reading, the name of people I’m meeting, the purpose of the meeting, etc.

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  • And here’s reader #4 🙂 the post beat the odds

  • Charles

    Dave,

    Love the idea, although you should beware the Hawthorne effect (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hawthorne_effect)!

    By the way, make sure you spend a few of those 10min increments for us to have coffee or a few beers when you’re in Montreal!

    • David

      You beat me to it! My next post is gonna talk about the Hawthorne effect 🙂 I noticed changes within the first week of tracking, mostly driven by simple awareness.

      I am in Montreal right now, for another week or two. Let’s catch up (shoot me a note, I’m not sure which Charles you are 🙂 )

  • Chris

    Great read, man! Good to have the time to devise this experiment – cant wait to see you tracking devising of the next one… 🙂

  • Hi Dave,

    Interesting experiment. I did something similar when I was in Uganda but not so much to track my behaviour to learn more about it as to track it to ensure that I’m on track with what I wanted to accomplish – even ended up creating a formula which showed me on a daily basis how I was performing (Horrible, Bad, Eh …, Good, or Excellent) and weighed differently the importance of different tasks I wanted to accomplish in the calculation of that formula. Crazy times, inspired by the obsessive tracking of data on the impact of the work I did on Uganda.

    I’m curious to see where you go with this and may even implement something similar once I’m somewhat settled back in Toronto. Always wanted to do this myself!

    Good luck and look forward to reading more,
    Laksh

    P.S. Good to know about Statwing – I’ve been trying to search for a tool like this for a while and was having trouble finding something like it.

    • David

      Thanks Laksh. I’m also curious to see what you did, let me know when you’re back and we could share notes!

      • Hey Dave – I’m in Toronto. Just arrived a couple of weeks ago. Give me a shout out when you’re free, and let’s meet up.